The Lions are building a foundation for a brand new era, but in typical Lions fashion, they’ve got things mixed up.
The crown jewel, QB Matthew Stafford, is looking to be ready before the bulletproof case designed to protect it, is.
Stafford is wowing them in Allen Park, in the infancy of training camp. Even the writers, who can be funereal, are stirred by the rookie’s raw physical tools.
A gun, he has. Lasers, he throws. Maturity, he possesses.
Why, he’s the next John Elway! Or Bobby Layne!
They didn’t say these things about Joey Harrington back in 2002, when Pal Joey was the third overall pick in the draft. They didn’t say it about him in mini-camp or maxi-camp or the pre-season or the post-pre-season.
But they’re saying all this, and more, about Stafford, as the pressure mounts on the Lions coaching staff to start him come September 13 in New Orleans.
To me, it’s a fairly simple analysis to render.
Matthew Stafford should not start until his team is ready for him—read: the offensive line.
The question of whether to start Stafford or not has nothing to do with the kid himself. Well, unless he pee-pees his pants or his arm falls off or something like that, this isn’t about Stafford.
Stafford has the goods. I’m sold. You don’t have to rave about him any longer. He’s much more refined than Harrington, and his confidence appears to be more unshakable than Joey’s.
No, this isn’t about Stafford. It’s about those hired to protect him.
Stafford shouldn’t be thrust into the lineup—barring injury to Daunte Culpepper, of course—until his o-line is deemed trustworthy enough to keep the kid from being laid onto his back five or six times a game.
Stafford’s arm, his guile, his absorption of the offense—none of it means a hill of beans if he’s running around for his life in the backfield snap after snap.
Those of you not living in the bowels of the Uniroyal Tire on I-94 for the past several years know that protecting the quarterback hasn’t been one of the Lions’ strong suits. Of course, the Lions really haven’t had a strong suit, but one of the weakest has been pass protection.
There have been moves made to shore that up, but left guard is still a huge question mark, and LG is surrounded by a bunch of little question marks.
If the Lions’ offensive line was a Batman villain, it would be The Riddler.
Why, oh why, make Stafford’s indoctrination into the NFL more difficult than it already figures to be?
Why make the kid try to learn NFL quarterbacking on the run—literally?
With this o-line, Lions QBs figure to be sacked anywhere from 50 to 60 times this season.
You want to make Stafford another David Carr?
There’s at least been a little centrist movement lately when it comes to starting Stafford. Some cooler heads are trying to bob to the surface, stating that Stafford shouldn’t start on Opening Day, but instead maybe later in the season, when all playoff hope is mathematically lost.
Yet I could show you some math that eliminates the Lions on Sept. 13. But be that as it may.
Give GM Martin Mayhew one more season of trades, draft choices, and waiver pickups, in the hopes that the o-line will improve for 2010.
Then, play Stafford with impunity. Have at it.
Naming Stafford as the starter for Opening Day wouldn’t be a promotion—it would be a sentence.
Sacked, with no chance of parole.